I found myself roundly cursing a few days back when playing the second CD from Crimso's Live in Toronto set I realised there was an odd glitch towards the end of The Letters just before the segue into Sailor's Tale. After two lines of Jakko's (wonderful) unaccompanied singing of the final verse there was a weird pause and then a traumatic jump into somewhere around twenty or so bars into the instrumental. What puzzled me was the fact I hadn't noticed anything amiss playing the disk in the UK. I seriously wondered whether I'd ever made it into the second CD at all, but felt sure that I'd listened to it at least once in the car. Had I been distracted and missed the jump somehow? I was seriously thinking of purchasing the entire set again through amazon and giving away the faulty set to someone who might just appreciate the mighty seven-headed beast comprising the greatest rock band in the known universe.
Fortunately I had the wit to test out the disk on a different player, this being the cheapo Sony thingy in the bedroom. This negotiated the segue, a bit creakily true, but Jakko was able to finish the last verse and the three drummers/percussionists picked up the lovely circling cymbal motif that heralds the beginning of what is surely one of the great instrumental pieces of rock music of all time. And today I played it in the car where even the creaky scratchy sounds vanished. So I won't have to buy the set over again, thankfully.
But why would I have even considered doing so? Gentle Reader, let me tell you that the Toronto set is one of the greatest live recordings of a concert I have ever heard. The way this version of the band re-work old and more recent material is masterful. But it isn't just that. It seems to these ears that there's something quite new, in the rock world anyway, going on here. It's as if a kind of conservatory approach has been taken to the music. I know there's been some criticism on-line of what some listeners perceive as a kind of reining-in of rhythmic power - caused, in part, by having to coordinate those three drummers. As far as I understand it a click track is used to keep things together.
But what I hear is, if anything, a gain in the already extraordinary power of the band. It's as if the massive onward momentum of the heavier stuff is being just about held in, against its wishes, and the tension created is intensely dynamic. And there's a gain in subtlety for this always most subtle of rock groups. The version of VROOM, for example, actually made me laugh, as well as shudder, as Mel's baritone sax kicked in with the primary theme in a sort of manically jaunty fashion.
In fact, there are so many such wonderful moments in the concert that it's almost overwhelming to try and take in the imaginative power of what these guys are doing with otherwise familiar material. Seriously, it's beyond brilliant, and I have run out of superlatives.